The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 7.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.
Under the moon at the imposing pass, Bao Aluan sets off alone.
By the bridge over the River Ba, Li Fengjie battles a multitude.
Time travels like an arrow as the seasons turned amid the swinging of sabers and the thrusting of fists, and several years passed one after another. The old master Bao's body was as robust as it had ever been, but his ashy beard had already turned white as snow, as he was now a man of seventy-six. Most of his disciples had grown beards and their disciples were all already men grown. In the ten years since, the changes in the affairs of Jianghu had come extraordinarily quickly, but never at any hour of any day did the old master forget about Jiang Xiaohe. Whenever a disciple came from afar to call on him, he necessarily asked in earnest, "Have you heard of Jiang Xiaohe's whereabouts? Have any young men of exceptional martial arts appeared anew in the Jianghu of other provinces?" But their answers always disappointed him. This was because he thought, Jiang Xiaohe will come to Zhenba after he has completed his martial arts training and kill all of my disciples and their disciples. Wouldn't it be better if I were alive then to meet him when he comes? I could defeat him, that would naturally be good, but if I can't, it would be all right. I could ask him to take just my old life. I was the one who killed his father, so if I was killed by him, it would be no injustice.
Currently, his eldest Bao Zhilin was still managing the Kunlun Security Office in Hanzhong and had accepted many disciples of his own, becoming ever wealthier. Ever since the mysterious xia hit his vital points on the Qin mountain road, his second son Bao Zhilin had become crippled. Though they had invited many doctors to treat him and he could now move, his lower back was still bent like a hunchback. Whenever he saw people, he would forever appear to be bowing to them. The old master's first daughter-in-law Fang-shi had passed away three years prior to illness, while his second daughter-in-law lived without incident. His granddaughter Aluan was now of twenty-two years already, and she had blossomed simply into a flower. No, better yet, she was like an exquisitely carved, as lovely as clear jade, prominently straight and tall mountain peak. Her hair was like a dark cloud, her eyes twinkled like stars, and her face was delicate like a flower. She had the elegance of a spring willow, and her bone structure was like a winter pine. She was neither tall nor short, and neither skinny nor fat. Her feet weren't small, and her temperament and speech were neither common nor wild. She had long since learned the martial arts. She could jump high and leap far, roll, parry, pull and block. She was especially skilled in the secret saber arts of the Kunlun School and could maneuver without rival, exceeding Lu Zhizhong, Ge Zhiqiang and all the good Jianghu men of Guanzhong or Hanzhong.
The old master Bao had once said that his granddaughter's martial arts had surpassed his own, and that if Northern Sichuan's Xia of Langzhong returned, there was no way she could lose. Though he didn't say it aloud, he often thought such things of Jiang Xiaohe. I wonder how powerful Jiang Xiaohe's martial arts are now. Can he defeat my granddaughter? Aluan hoped every day for Jiang Xiaohe's return, saying to the old master, "Grandpa, I wish Jiang Xiaohe would come to us for revenge right now. The sooner he comes, the sooner I'll kill him, and the sooner I can make you feel more at ease!" When the old master heard this, he just smiled, but in his heart he knew it wouldn't be as easy as that.
In the customs of Southern Shaanxi, any maidens who hadn't married into another family by fifteen or sixteen beckoned others to laugh. The girl Aluan's feet were a little big and she spent her entire day riding horses and doing bladework like a man, but those who were hardworking and prudent naturally dared say nothing about her. However, many noted masters and escorts competed to bring their sons before old master Bao to ask for Aluan's betrothal. Old master Bao refused them all without exception, and sometimes when he thought it annoying, he said, "My granddaughter will not get married in this lifetime!" Bao Aluan immersed herself in martial arts the day long. In the early morning she practiced her fists, in the afternoon she rode her horse, and she went inside late at night. Spring and autumn hurried past thusly. The flowers bloomed and the leaves fell with nary a thought of hers given to emotion. But there was one thing she couldn't forget, and it was that one time in her childhood when she agreed to be someone's wife.
Jiang Xiaohe climbed a tree to fetch her kite on the condition that he call her wife. She still remembered what it was like then. When she thought about it her face flushed red and she hated Jiang Xiaohe for it. She didn't hate him just because Xiaohe was an enemy of her house. There seemed to be some other reason she couldn't speak aloud that often made her clench her teeth in irritation. She thought she couldn't be happy until Jiang Xiaohe came now for a great battle of three or four hundred exchanges with her, whereupon she would kill him and his body would rot, and then she might cry over him, or perhaps she would slit her throat in front of the corpse that she'd killed! This morning after she'd finished her martial arts training, she galloped her pomegranate red steed outside of the village straight through to the Southern Mountains before retracing her steps back. She came upon a willow at the side of the road, pulled her saber out and hacked at it. When a large piece of bark dropped off with a crack, she felt a bit of her anger subside and a bit of her hatred dissipate. It was because this willow had tangled her kite ten years ago that she chopped at it every day until it was covered in notches and cuts. It hadn't fallen over yet, but its branches had slowly disappeared and the willow leaves were no longer lush. It likely wouldn't survive the next few years.
Bao Aluan returned home, tied up her horse, set down her saber, and ate lunch. She always ate lunch with her grandpa, and the two, grandfather and granddaughter, talked about everything. Today, however, old master Bao stopped their conversation and after a while said, "Aluan, would you be willing to venture out?" Aluan's chopsticks stopped and she smiled, saying, "Where do you want me to go? Grandpa." The old master said, "To make your way upon Jianghu! To travel high mountains and great rivers as you please, to see things you can't see at home, to meet heroes outside of our Kunlun School." Aluan joyously said, "Yes, I want to! Grandpa, let's go together! How long it's been since you've traveled Jianghu!" Old master Bao waved his hand and said, "I can't leave home." Aluan smirked, saying, "You can't leave home? Well, I can't leave you." After she said this, she continued pinching food with her chopsticks and eating.
The old master Bao furrowed his brow for a while and then said, "Don't think that you've learned all the martial arts you're going to. Far from it, actually! You definitely won't learn any special skills within the circle of our Kunlun School. You need to go out there to make your way and train. Go to Hanzhong from here, from Hanzhong across the Qin Mountains to Xi'an, and then exit through the Hangu Pass and follow the Yellow River to Kaifeng. When you get there, find Gao Qinggui the old xia, ask him to be your master and learn dianxue." Aluan scoffed, "I'm not learning any dianxue! Real heroes speak with sabers and spears. If they've used dianxue to win, they're no champion!" The old master shook his head and said, "You can't say it that way. Dianxue must be learned. In addition, I'm telling you to venture out and train for other reasons as well. First, you can go out and inquire about Xiaohe'd whereabouts..."
Upon hearing this, Aluan immediately raised her eyebrows and said, "If I go out and am able to ferret out where Jiang Xiaohe is, there'll be no way I won't kill him when I encounter him!" The old master said, "If he doesn't pick a fight with you, or if he hasn't learned much in the way of skills, we can leave him alone. As for the second matter, it's that you're already twenty and then some this year. Just as a man grown must take a wife, and a woman grown must be betrothed, you must also go and find a good husband. None of the men among those we know will do, so you have to go outside and seek one out. In these last dozen years, there have appeared not a few heroes of your generation on Jianghu, so there must certainly be one suitable for you. But you need always remember that he must one handsome in appearance, upright in conduct and stronger than me in his martial arts. If you find him, come back and tell me, and I'll send someone to make the match."
When the old master finished speaking, he saw that his granddaughter was red in the face. She said nothing and had stayed her chopsticks and stopped eating. The old master sighed to himself with regret and thought, In the end, one can't keep a girl around once she's grown! Then he said to his granddaughter, "You must remember! I'm sending you out to Jianghu to choose a husband, but if you find him, all you need do is remember his name and his background. I still need to test him to make sure his martial skill is greater than mine. And then I'll let you marry him, but it wouldn't do if he were lacking even a little bit. You'll be traveling upon Jianghu, but you still need to peaceably and graciously follow the rules of courtesy. You'll not act excessively and damage my good name!" The girl Aluan rested her chin in her hands and kept deeply silent. It was as if she had become another person that day, for after lunch she neither touched a saber nor swung a sword.
The old master chose a date of departure for his granddaughter; she was to set off the day after next. The following day, he ordered traveling clothes prepared for her and assigned his fourth disciple Jiang Zhiyao to accompany her on her journey for protection and guidance. Jiang Zhiyao was once a disciple the old master had been very proud of, but because he flirted with a married woman from a good family while watching a festival play in his youth, he had broken one of the Kunlun School's rules. The circumstances were not as serious so his life was spared, but his left eye had still been scooped out. He lived a hermit's life for seven or eight years to keep his right eye, and trained in the martial arts with great progress. He traveled upon Jianghu these past few years and increased his reputation daily so that most called him "the One-eyed Vanguard." He was now a man of forty-some years and very upright and honest, so the old master had sent for him to accompany his granddaughter and repeatedly asked of him very many things about it.
The day they were to set off arrived. It was a clear and tranquil day early in the fourth month, and Ma Zhixian, Chen Zhijun, Yuan Zhiyi, Zhang Zhicai and others had come to the Bao Village, all to send off the girl Aluan. Zhang Zhicai was originally the eighteenth disciple of the Kunlun School, but because his martial arts saw daily progress in recent years, the old master Bao had summoned him this time to look after the household. He asked, "Where does Young Aluan plan on going?" Old master Bao replied, "I told her to go to Hanzhong first to see her father, and then to cross the Qin Mountains to visit Ge Zhiqiang in Xi'an. I'm having Zhiqiang take her to meet some of the famous figures in the security firms of Xi'an. From Xi'an, they'll head east to see Li Zhenxia of Huazhou and Zhang Debao of Tongzhou, and then exit through the Hangu Pass to call upon Liang Gao the Iron-armed Monkey of Luoning county, the Chan master Taiwu the Golden-faced Bodhisattva of Mount Song, and Gao Qinggui of Kaifeng. Afterwards, she's to head south to visit Lu Boxiong the Divine Whip in Shangcai, Liu Kuang the Peer to Huang Zhong in Xinyang subprefecture, and Second Pang the Flower Spear in Xiangyang city. Thereafter, she'll enter Sichuan Province to meet Southern Sichuan's Tiger of Fuzhou and Northern Sichuan's Xia of Langzhong!"
When the group of disciples heard the girl Aluan's ambitions this time, they were all extremely envious. However, Jiang Zhiyao couldn't help turning his single eye about, thinking, This journey is nothing more than a punishment. If the young lady runs into a little trouble on the road, this right eye of mine will be scooped out too. But since the old master had assigned this to him, he didn't dare turn it down. Hence, everyone drank wine together and had a farewell feast for the girl Aluan and Jiang Zhiyao, all wishing them a peaceful voyage. Aluan again felt a little reluctant to leave, holding back her tears as she said goodbye to her grandfather, her uncle and her aunt. She left the village and mounted her horse, and then set off with Jiang Zhiyao, heading north.
Riding a white horse, Jiang Zhiyao was dressed in a green coat and pants, and inside the travel roll behind his saddle was enclosed a saber. He rode ahead, neither fast nor slow. The young lady Aluan's horse was pomegranate-red, and short and strong, a true small river horse. It had a new saddle and shiny stirrups, and its bridle and reins were very finely made. The young lady, however, wore clothes that were not brightly colored, a blue silk jacket and pants and green shoes, on the toes of which were fastened only a few small crab flowers. Her head was covered with a piece of blue silk and her braid was hidden inside her jacket. A blanket roll was behind her saddle and a white saber hilt poked out of it. The young lady shook her whip and spurred her horse to follow as she lifted her two sprightly eyes up and took in the landscapes, wheat fields, rice paddies and cottages at the side of the road. It was considered departing Zhenba county after they crossed the mountains to the north, at which point they would ride west.
Jiang Zhiyao twisted his body while atop his horse and smiled at the young lady, saying, "Miss Luan, we're leaving your home now. This journey of ours is not to places near. We're to go two-to-three thousand miles at the very least, and who knows whom we'll encounter on the road and what will happen. Miss Luan, your martial arts are powerful, but you haven't gone to places far away. I've traveled upon Jianghu for many years, but even I haven't left the province. When we go out there, we must always be cautious and be careful in everything. No matter who it is, we must be modest and respectful. We need start with words of praise and even make way for mountain bandits. We're both carrying weapons, but we can't just use them whenever we like, nor can we reveal our martial ability lightly. Otherwise..."
Aluan listened to here, she widened her eyes and said, "I get it! Stop the nonsense!" Jiang Zhiyao crinkled with his unmatched eyes and smiled, saying, "It's not nonsense. It's the truth. No matter how skilled a person is, no one runs wild, fighting every person they meet." Aluan's temper flared as she said, "Uncle Jiang, if you keep talking this nonsense, I'm going to travel by myself. If you don't want to come with me, then go back home!" Jiang Zhiyao said, "All right! All right! I'll stop! I'm just urging you to remember this word: caution!" Aluan replied bluntly, "I know!" Jiang Zhiyao flapped his whip and smiled, "As long as you know." Thus, the two horses trotted their way strictly west and reached Hanzhong that very day.
At the Kunlun Security Office, Aluan saw her father Bao Zhiyun and several of her disciple-uncles. When Bao Zhiyun heard that his daughter was to travel far upon Jianghu, he felt very anxious, but because it was his own father who had told her to come out, he had no way of sending her back home. He was originally thinking to assign two or three men to go with her, but first, there weren't enough men at this security office to spare, and no one would be willing to take a journey so far. And second, his daughter had a proud character and would definitely not want any more people to come with her. Thus, Bao Zhiyun wrote a letter and gave it to Jiang Zhiyao to pass on to Ge Zhiqiang when they arrived at the Xi'an office, telling Ge Zhiqiang to find a way to send men to protect Aluan from the wayside.
Aluan spent one night here, and in the early morning of the next day, she bid her father farewell and set off once again with Jiang Zhiyao. From Hanzhong they traveled a day and arrived in Liuba county where they lodged at the security office of her disciple-uncle Zheng Zhibiao. They continued on the following day and by noon they were crossing the green and majestic Qin Mountains. Fortunately, the weather was clear and bright. There were a good many traveling merchants and visitors in the mountains, and they didn't come upon any bandits. In the evening, they came to the Dasan Pass where there was a Kunlun Security Office. It had been opened only three years past and its escort captain was Lu Zhizhong.
Upon seeing the young lady Aluan approaching, Lu Zhizhong couldn't help but be taken aback. Jiang Zhiyao related to Lu Zhizhong the course of the journey as spoken by the old master. Lu Zhizhong's expression changed completely and said, "You must not continue on, young lady, by any means. You can go and amuse yourself in Xi'an, but you mustn't go any further. It's extraordinary right now. A few young heroes of great martial skill have appeared in Henan Province. The best known is the grandson of Ji Junyi the Xia of Longmen. His name is Ji Guangjie and his years have not exceeded twenty, yet his martial arts are very strong! Even Gao Qinggui of Kaifeng suffered defeat by his hand. It's said he's making his way west to meet with Li Zhenxia of Huazhou, and by chance he wants to go to Zhenba to test his strength with our old master. This man's skills are above those of our Kunlun School. Young lady, if you run into him and he finds out you're Bao Kunlun's granddaughter, he will certainly maltreat you!"
Upon hearing mention of the Xia of Longmen who that year was called one of the Two Pinnacles of North and South, and of his grandson now entering the world, Jiang Zhiyao widened his single eye in alarm and changed his expression, saying, "We mustn't provoke them. The Longmen School is far superior to our Kunlun School! Our old master had warned us earlier never to be complacent in learning martial arts. He spoke often of the examples of the Xia of Longmen and the Dragon of Shu. They didn't take disciples, but if they had turned one out, even one of them could stand against a hundred of ours." Lu Zhizhong said, "There is one more thing I have yet to report to our master, and it's that people who come from the east say that a young xia has newly come from Jiangnan. His sword skill is very strong and his movements are secret. Some suspect that he's Jiang Xiaohe reentering the world having learned his martial arts!" Jiang Zhiyao was taken aback and looked gravely at Aluan. He was about to say that it really was time to reconsider things and to abandon thoughts of roaming Jianghu and think of some way to look after the household, or else what good could come of Jiang Xiaohe finding his way to Zhenba? However, to his surprise Bao Aluan's pretty eyes lit up as she said, "Uncle Lu and Uncle Jiang, just leave it to me. I must meet face-to-face with the Xia of Longmen's grandson. If Jiang Xiaohe really had come back out, then even better! If he's in Jiangnan, I'll look for him in Jiangnan, and if he's in the Far North, I'll look for him in the Far North. My only worry is that I can't find him, but I'm not afraid of him coming to find me!" She said this with one hand on her hip and her eyebrows lifted, looking not at all like a maiden in a lady's chamber, but instead like a hegemon harshly fighting his way upon Jianghu. Jiang Zhiyao was about to speak further, but Lu Zhizhong shot him a glance, stopping him. In a short while, after they had finished dinner, Lu Zhizhong prepared a clean room especially for the young lady Aluan and invited her to go rest. He and Jiang Zhiyao together discussed ways to dissuade Aluan from going on tomorrow. The two knew well of her proud nature, but they figured she was a woman in the end. Tomorrow, they would insist a bit and then exaggerate the advantages and disadvantages. She would behind and think of nothing else. Little did they know that Bao Aluan would leave Jiang Zhiyao behind that night and set off to the north alone on her horse.
The Dasan Pass was a strategic pass in the shadow of the Qin Mountains. There was a town with about ten shops there. During the day, merchants went back and forth while horses and carts came continuously. During the night, however, it was deserted, with just the bright moon above the mountain peaks shining down upon an empty town with one courier road. Lu Zhizhong's security office had been set up outside the town walls, which was very convenient for Bao Aluan. She took advantage of when the people in the office were sound asleep to secretly take up her belongings and her horse. She departed through the gate, got on her horse and rode north. She was afraid Lu Zhizhong would find out and chase after her, and then urge her further to turn back, so she urgently swung her whip and galloped north under the moonlight and in the mountain winds. This courier road stretched straight through to Xi'an, and after Bao Aluan rode sixty or seventy miles of it, the day gradually broke. After riding a bit more, the road became sparsely populated by travelers. The travelers all took notice of this lone woman, but she pretended not to see anyone and continued spurring her horse onward. Around midday, she found a shop and ate lunch. Afterwards, she inquired about the way out and continued on. She rode straight until dusk and arrived outside a county seat. Because she was exhausted, she stopped at an inn and stayed there. It wasn't until she asked the innkeeper that she came to know this was Xingping county. Xi'an was only two way stations away.
There were many people staying at this inn and its yard was completely filled with horses and carts. All the rooms in the inn were lit with lamps and people with various accents were conversing loudly. No one paid much attention to Bao Aluan when she arrived here. A server at the inn brought her food and when he saw her remove her head cloth, revealing a crimson braid base, he asked, "Miss, are you by yourself? Where are you coming from? Are you going to Xi'an?" Bao Aluan nodded, but kept silent. When she finished eating, she called the server to brew a pot of tea. She closed up her own door and laid on the kang to rest. She thought about what she should do when she arrived in Xi'an the next day, whether or not she should go see her disciple-uncle Ge Zhiqiang. She considered this for a while before deciding against seeing him. Not only would she not go find them, but she thought it unnecessary to enter Xi'an at all. She would go around the city and head east straight through the Hangu Pass. Once she left Guanzhong, there wouldn't any people of the Kunlun School there, and likewise no one to stand in her way any longer.
She thought, I wonder how powerful the Xia of Longmen's grandson's martial arts are, the one surnamed Ji. Could it really be stronger than mine? I don't believe it. Then she thought, Lu Zhizhong said he heard people say that Jiang Xiaohe had now entered the world again and that he had quite a name in Jiangnan. I have to find him and see who has learned better martial arts in these ten years. Though my grandpa said that his master's martial arts were very strong, practically like those of a god, so the martial arts that he's learned must be pretty good, I don't believe that either. I have to compare mine with his. Whether his martial arts are stronger than mine or weaker, I must think of a way to kill him no matter what. I simply can't allow him to live in this world. When she thought this, she felt a little sad though she didn't know why. She grit her teeth, pulled the covers over her head and fell asleep.
She rose early the following day and after washing up, she called for the innkeep to prepare her horse. She settled her debts and led her horse out of the gate. When she left the busy streets, she mounted her horse and galloped east. She had ridden thirty of forty miles before the sun had risen high up by which time she had arrived outside of Xianyang city. An expansive river crossed in front of her with a very lively ferry crossing. A dozen or so large boats were carrying people back and forth. Aluan climbed off her horse and asked a nearby person, "Excuse me. Might I ask, need I cross this river to get to Xi'an?" The person appeared to be a merchant with a donkey wagon at his side. He was gazing straight on at the boats on the river's surface before turning to look at Aluan. He simply nodded, saying, "It's not a matter of the boats coming. When there are too many people, if you don't squeeze yourself onto one, you won't be going."
Aluan was taken aback, for she saw that this was her disciple-uncle Liu Zhiyuan. Liu Zhiyuan was currently an escort working under Ge Zhiqiang at the Lishun Security Office in Xi'an, and hadn't been back to Zhenba county in two years. When someone had hastily called to him now, he hadn't thought the one speaking to him would be Aluan. He led his horse over and said, "Miss Luan, what are you doing out here?" He appeared astonished as he said this. Seeing yet another familiar face, Bao Aluan couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed. She greeted her disciple-uncle and gave her courtesies, and then she said, "It was my grandpa's idea. He told me to go out to make my way and train, and sent my uncle Jiang to come with me. My dad had been very agreeable. But when I got to Dasan Pass and saw Uncle Lu Zhizhong, they abruptly urged me to turn back. I'd already come out, so wouldn't going back make people laugh? So I left alone in the middle of the night, and now I plan to go to Xi'an first before continuing east, out through the Hangu Pass and off into Henan. My grandpa even told me to go to Xiangyang, and Langzhong too!"
Hearing this, Liu Zhiyuan was so shocked sweat started dripping from his head, but he had watched young Aluan grow up in Zhenba, so he knew very well the young lady's pride and temper. Thus he smiled insincerely and said, "Lu Zhizhong is so very like our old master. His martial arts grow stronger as his years grow older, but on the contrary his courage diminishes! With your martial arts, never mind about Henan, Xiangyang or Langzhong, even if you traveled to Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan or Guizhou, only those who no longer want to live would dare bully you. Don't hurry, young miss. Come with me to Xi'an first and rest at the security office. Enjoy yourself for a day and then I can tell Brother Ge I'm taking leave and take you across the pass. I had always wanted to leave the province and see the world." Upon hearing this, Aluan burst with happiness and nodded, asking, "When I go see Uncle Ge, will he try to stand in my way?" Liu Zhiyuan smiled and said, "Who can stand in your way? It was the old master that told you to come out here, so how could anyone stop you and send you back? Unless it was Lu Zhizhong. That man is just like an old mother. He's afraid of every little thing and is always careful and timid!"
A boat arrived shortly and the people on the boat came down off of it at the same time that the people, wagons and horses on shore crowded themselves on board. Liu Zhiyuan led his own black horse as well as Aluan's red one as they squeezed themselves onto the boat. The deck of the boat was fairly big. It could hold three wagons, four or five horses, and had additional standing room for a dozen or more people. There were a total of five ferrymen, all of them with bare arms and each holding a ten-foot-long punting pole capped with iron. They dipped them into the water and gave a shout as they exerted their strength. This boat drifted forward across the vast and turgid water's surface, though it approached extremely slowly. After a long while, it still seemed as if they had not moved at all.
By this time, the sun had already risen very high as it shone on the surface of the water yellow amid a field of purple, sending off a glitter of golden stars. Xianyang city behind them grew slowly ever more distant. On the boat, Bao Aluan asked Liu Zhiyuan, "My Uncle Lu said something about Jiang Xiaohe reentering the world?" Liu Zhiyuan furtively waved his hand at Aluan, but didn't reply. Aluan was a little confused, but didn't seem to want to give up, so she spoke aloud to herself, "Jiang Xiaohe has studied the martial arts, so I want to see how well he's learned. Though my grandpa sent someone to kill his dad, in those days that my grandpa took him in, he never mistreated him. But he had no conscience, bringing back the Xia of Langzhong and making my grandpa angry. Now that he's found himself a master to teach him martial arts, I'd like to meet this master of his. And then there's this Xia of Longmen's grandson. I must meet him as well!"
Liu Zhiyuan stood beside her, anxious to the point that sweat trickled from his head as he said, "Young miss, look how muddy the Wei River is, and then look how clear the Jing River is. Strange, isn't it? And look, young miss, owls in the sky!" He spoke at random about this and that in an attempt to use his words to change the subject away from what Aluan was saying, but not a single person in the boat was not paying attention to Aluan. When they crossed the river, Liu Zhiyuan mounted his horse and headed south with Aluan. He let out an exasperated sigh and said, "Young miss, don't you have the least bit of experience traveling upon Jianghu? How could you say such things so casually out there? The Xia of Longmen's grandson Ji Guangjie himself might have been on that ferry!" When he finished, he looked back again as if he was afraid someone might have come after them.
Aluan sneered and said, "Even better if we encounter him. I came out here so I could find myself some adversaries." Liu Zhiyuan spurred his horse ahead of Aluan's and turned his head back to warn her, "Young miss, you mustn't be so impatient! Even if you did find adversaries, you must first think things over. How are my opponents' martial arts? Is it possible for us to win? And then you can fight them, better if you have some help. Young miss, your martial arts are very powerful, but in the end you are..." Liu Zhiyuan was not finished speaking, but Aluan, fuming with anger, said, "Uncle Liu, just stop! If you keep talking, I'll skip Chang'an completely, and continue east to look for Jiang Xiaohe and Ji Guangjie!"
Liu Zhiyuan nodded and smiled, saying, "I'll stop! However, I do have a few more words of advise for you, young miss. There is surely enmity between Jiang Xiaohe and us, and given the incident of his bringing the Xia of Langzhong to cause great trouble in our Zhenba and Ziyang, that enmity will not undo itself in even ten thousand years. No matter how great the martial arts are that he's learned, if he were to step foot in Hanzhong, we would have to fight him. But Ji Guangjie has no grievance or animosity with or towards us. He's just appeared in the last couple year and hasn't traveled much. He's not even come to Guanzhong yet. However, it's said that Gao Qinggui of Kaifeng saw defeat under his hands, so it's clear his martial arts are powerful and he must know how to perform dianxue. Since he is the grandson of the Xia of Longmen, he must probably be reasonable. If he doesn't come looking for us, there is no need to go looking for him." Aluan scoffed bitterly but didn't speak.
The two horses followed the main road south and when it was close to noon, they arrived in Xi'an. Coming upon this bustling place, it was really more than Aluan's eyes could take in at one time. In all these hundreds of thousands of people, she thought, if Jiang Xiaohe or Ji Guangjie were to come to this place and were blended in with this sea of people, there would be no way for me to find them. Liu Zhiyuan hurried his horse forward and turned back to look at Aluan, saying, "Young miss, look at how lively this place is. It's much busier than our Zhenba, isn't it? Let's go see your Uncle Ge first. He's the top escort here and one of its few wealthy men!"
Thus, Liu Zhiyuan brought Aluan in through the south gate. They dismounted their horses when they arrived at the entryway to the Lishun Security Office on the big southern street. The security office was very large and imposing, and there were four or five men in front of the gate. When they saw Liu Zhiyuan, they all came to greet him. Liu Zhiyuan spoke of the young lady and told them that she was the granddaughter of the old master Bao come on her own from Zhenba. They were all amazed when they heard this and looked upon the young lady and made their salutations to her. Their horses had long been taken away, so Liu Zhiyuan brought the young lady inside where they ran into Ge Zhiqiang's son, Ge Shaogang.
Ge Shaogang was quite a bit like his father. He was of a commanding build; his strength was great and his character fierce. He was currently twenty-some years and had acted as a junior captain, taking security wagons to locales far away many times. Because they had met once five years prior, he rushed over and bowed, saying, "Sister Aluan, why have you come with Uncle Liu? Is our old master-grandfather doing well? Please come in, sister. Let my mom have a look at you." And so he brought Aluan into the inner yard where Ge Zhiqiang's personal residence was located.
Ge Zhiqiang's wife Xu-shi was a woman of forty-some years, and his daughter-in-law was named Cheng Yu'e. She was the daughter of Cheng Fengshan the Long Spear of the Fengshan Security Office in the same city, and she knew some martial arts. Ge Shaogang gave introductions, "This is my mom, and this is my wife." After introductions, he took a look at Aluan, and then looked at his wife. He thought things unacceptable for the two of them looked much too different. Aluan was nothing less than a heavenly immortal, but his wife couldn't even be counted as an earthly immortal. He left to retrieve his father, so Aluan chatted with Xu-shi and her daughter-in-law. Though Xu-shi and her daughter-in-law belonged to families in the security business, both of them were women who stayed inside and attended to the home. Aluan couldn't stand listening to them talk of trivial matters. She told them only the purpose of her coming out here and what happened on the road before she stopped talking. Cheng Yu'e brought her some tea, but she didn't seem to know any words of politeness, so Xu-shi made a bit of a joke out of it.
She remained there a while before Ge Zhiqiang came. Aluan quickly stood up and performed her courtesies. Then she smiled and said, "Uncle Ge, why have you grown a beard?" Ge Zhiqiang laughed and said, "I'm almost an old man myself! I've heard from Liu Zhiyuan about the young miss's matters. Since it was the old master and my disciple-brother who sent you out this way, naturally we cannot stand in your way. However, I must still invite you to remain several days, young miss. We can discuss things and we must get someone who knows the way to accompany the young miss forward." Aluan shook her head and said, "I don't want anyone to accompany me. I know the way on my own. I've brought my own travel expenses and I have a saber to protect myself with!"
Ge Zhiqiang laughed and said, "Young miss, don't let your emotions make your decisions for you. Didn't you want to meet up with Jiang Xiaohe and Ji Guangjie, or something? From what I've heard, a man of skill has indeed come out of Jiangnan, but his surname is Li, a man of Zhili Province. It is not Jiang Xiaohe. This man shouldn't matter to us for now. As for Jiang Guangji, he's in Kaifeng right now. I've already sent someone to invite him here. It will probably be ten days to a fortnight before he comes to this place."
Upon hearing this, Aluan was elated and nodded, saying, "Great! Then I shall wait here for ten days or a fortnight. I'll meet with Ji Guangjie first. As long as I defeat him, he wouldn't ever dare come to Hanzhong to look for my grandpa! Then, I'll go find Jiang Xiaohe. When I see him I won't let him off easily. Whether or not he's learned martial arts or not, I have to kill him because I hate him so!" When she said this, tears unexpectedly fell from Aluan's eyes. Ge Zhiqiang gave her a few words of exhortation before going outside with a furrowed brow. It turned out that as the young lady Aluan and Liu Zhiyuan walked in with their front feet, Lu Zhizhong had hurried here close behind their back feet.
Lu Zhizhong was extremely anxious and complained of the old master doing things foolishly, that he shouldn't have allowed the young lady to come out here. He said, "Never mind Jiang Xiaohe; he might have already died these past several years. It's that grandson of the Xia of Longmen. How could we provoke him? Hence I've caught up with the young miss, and no matter what, we mustn't allow her to go any further. I've asked Jiang Zhiyao to return to Hanzhong and tell Brother Zhiyun to come get her himself!" Ge Zhiqiang said, "Don't worry. She can't go on for the time being, because I've misled her into thinking I've sent someone to invite Ji Guangjie to come. She's already agreed to wait here for Ji Guangjie. I plan on telling her to go have fun every day, and when she's done so for ten days or a fortnight, she'll feel the bustle of this place and naturally won't be anxious to leave." Lu Zhizhong nodded and said, "However, we must still ask Brother Zhiyun to come. If she stays here for a while, something is bound to happen. I know well that this young miss's temper is not the greatest!" Thus, Lu Zhizhong stayed here, daring not to return to the Dasan Pass and daring not to face the young lady.
The young lady Aluan entertained herself all day by riding her horse in the streets, and when she returned, she would ask Ge Zhiqiang, "Hasn't Ji Guangjie come yet?" It was such every day and soon eight or nine days had passed in succession. On this day, it was Ge Shaogang's idea to take his wife sixteen miles south of the city to the Dayan Pagoda to burn incense and sightsee. When he asked the young lady Aluan whether or not she wanted to go, she said, "What's fun about going to the Dayan Pagoda?"
Ge Shaogang thrust his large, dark, round head forward and smiled with his mouth open, saying, "What's fun about it? Ha! Miss, you'll know when you see it, if you come. It's a pagoda from the Tang Dynasty. Sir Lu Ban supervised its construction, and Monkey's master Tripitaka is buried below it. It's not far from the city. Miss, you should come with us for some fun!" Thus, he pushed his wife to get ready more quickly and then went outside to tell people to horse the cart. In a short while, his wife Cheng Yu'e came out of the inner yard with Aluan. [Note: Neither of Ge Shaogang's claims about the pagoda are true. Lu Ban died a millennium before it was built, and the Tang monk Tripitaka is said to be buried at Xingjiao Temple, further south of Xi'an than the Dayan Pagoda.]
Aluan had changed into a pink shirt and light green pants today, and had also rouged her cheeks. She was simply much prettier when compared to Cheng Yu'e. When she got to the front courtyard, she ordered someone to prepare her horse. Ge Shaogang's eyes darted towards Aluan as he asked, "Miss Luan, you needn't prepare a horse. Why don't you ride in the cart with your sister-in-law? I'll stand on the cart shaft." Aluan shook her head and said, "No, the last thing I want to do is ride a cart." Ge Shaogang smiled and said, "Then I'll ride a horse too. Miss Luan, we must race later, to see whose horse is fastest. I've run this horse across the Northern Mountains before." Thus, an attendant prepared two horses. Aluan led her small, pomegranate red horse out first as a servant woman climbed into the cart with Cheng Yu'e.
Ge Shaogang ran into the inner yard. He had changed into a creased blue coat and pants and put on a pair of ground-gripping boots before coming back out as an attendant was leading his horse out. His horse was black with not one tangled hair on its entire body, and its saddle and blanket were brand new. A steel saber with an iron scabbard hung below the saddle and a piece of silk was fastened to its hilt. Ge Shaogang was very pleased as he received a whip that an attendant had handed to him. He was about to grab the saddle and mount his horse when they heard someone calling out from behind, "Where are you going?" Atop her horse, Aluan said, "We're going to take a look at the Dayan Pagoda. Are you coming, Uncle Liu?" Liu Zhiyuan shook his head and said, "No, I'm not." And then he urged Ge Xiaogang quietly, "You'd better keep yourself close to the young miss, and don't cause any trouble!" Ge Shaogang nodded and climbed onto his horse. With the cart in front and the two horses behind, they left through the south gate and made their way directly to the Dayan Pagoda.
Before traveling very far, they spotted in front of them a stone tower reaching high up into the sky. Though it looked as if it was right in front of them, it would be a time before they would reach it. It was surrounded on both sides by fields of wheat, boundless waves of jade. There weren't many people traveling on the road. Ge Shaogang spurred his horse to rush up in front of the cart and turned his head back toward Aluan, calling, "Miss Luan, shall we race our horses?" Aluan just smiled and otherwise ignored him. Ge Shaogang became ever more delighted as he hurried his horse forward to a flying gallop. He bolted for more than a mile before charging his way back. His wife Cheng Yu'e grew angry and yelled from the cart, "Are you mad!?" Ge Shaogang gave his wife a brief, vicious glare and then glanced over at Aluan. A look of annoyance appeared on his face. His brows furrowed tightly too and he huffed, though he didn't run his horse alone again.
They arrived at the Dayan Pagoda shortly. Aluan saw that its temple wasn't very small, and the tower had been erected in the middle of the temple. It had a total of seven tiers with windows on all four faces. There were even people looking down from the highest of the windows. Aluan pointed with her whip, saying, "So we can go up the tower, then?" Ge Shaogang said, smiling, "Exactly! We've come just so we can go up and enjoy ourselves!" Because this day had not been set as a temple fair day, there weren't many people here. Only two or three carts were stopped in front of the gates with a few tethered donkeys and horses. A few people went in and out sporadically. Ge Shaogang had already hitched his horse when he took Aluan's horse over to tie to the hitching post.
By this time, Cheng Yu'e had already been helped off the cart by the servant woman. They walked into the temple and made their way first to the main hall to burn incense and pray to the Buddha, and then they headed through the back of the hall and walked into the tower. Inside the tower, there were winding stairs that could be climbed up to the highest level. Ge Shaogang led the way as his wife and the servant woman followed behind Aluan. When they reached the second floor, Cheng Yu'e could not go any higher because her feet were small, but Aluan had to go to the highest part to have a look. Ge Shaogang told his wife and the servant woman to wait here while he took the young lady Aluan further up. From the second floor, they reached the third floor, and then the fourth, fifth and sixth. On each floor there were a few visitors at the windows gazing down. By the time they reached the highest part of the seventh floor, they saw an offering made to the Buddha and a young scholar with a brush in hand writing on the wall. Ge Shaogang thought, This scholar is probably composing a poem. It's too bad my reading abilities are limited. He only saw that when he finished writing his verse he signed it, "Li Fengjie of Nangong."
Ge Shaogang couldn't help but laugh to himself, Bookworm! But beside him, Aluan paid close attention to this person. She could only see that he wasn't past his early twenties, and that he was handsome in appearance, wearing clothes that were quite nice. After he wrote his poem, he stepped back and set his brush down. Next to his inkstone laid a small bundle and a sword that had an iron hilt and an iron case. Aluan's grandfather had previously told her that this was a "weresword." A person who doesn't need to charge through a host of enemies or compete with martial arts for supremacy has no use for a weresword such as this one. She immediately paid even closer attention to him. Aluan saw him glance at her briefly before he put his brush and inkstone away. He picked up his bundle and sword and descended the steps of the tower.
Ge Shaogang smiled over at Aluan and said, "What a bookworm. He came to such a high place and even brought his brush and inkstone to compose a poem on the wall. All Hoity-toity, I don't even know what he was writing." But Aluan appeared perplexed, saying, "I think this person must know martial arts. His sword was unlike any ordinary sword. It was a weresword, its weight heavy. A person who didn't know martial arts could surely not hold such a sword." However, Ge Shaogang shook his head, saying, "No, it wasn't. You've been tricked by him, sister. A good portion of those bookworms like to carry around a sword for fun, pretending they're well-rounded in both the literary and the martial. How could there be people like him populating Jianghu? Furthermore, he wrote it clearly on the wall, Li Fengjie of Nangong—I, Ge Shaogang, have already traveled upon Jianghu a few years now, and I've never heard his name."
Aluan pursed her lips and shook her head to show she didn't believe him, as she held onto the tower railing and gazed downward. Ge Shaogang ran over to the window in the eastern wall and pointed outside, saying, "Miss Luan, quickly, come and look! You can see the Ba River from here." He asked her to come a couple more times before looking back to see that Aluan had already followed Li Fengjie down the tower steps. Ge Shaogang couldn't felt but feel a bit angry, thinking, This young lady is no good lady at all. It's a lucky thing I didn't take her as my wife. One look at a pale-faced scholar today and she's all confused! Thus jealousy filled Ge Shaogang's chest as he ran crashing down the tower steps as well, straight on to the second floor, where he saw his wife Cheng Yu'e and the servant woman both still there. Ge Shaogang looked directly at them and asked, "Where did Miss Luan go?"
Cheng Yu'e glared at him askance and said, "How should I know? Let me ask you, are you going back or not? If not, I'm leaving with Mother Jiang!" Ge Shaogang hastily waved his hand and said, "Don't rush! Don't rush!" He then followed the tower steps down and saw Aluan standing in front of the tower looking to the west. Li Fengjie of Nangong was on the west side carrying the brush and inkstone in one hand and clasping the sword and bundle in under one arm. He was standing in front of a stela with his lips moving as if he was reading the words inscribed on it.
Ge Shaogang said loudly, "Miss Luan, what are you looking at that bookworm for? How could a pecker like him know any martial arts, carrying around his pecker sword to fool people with? Damn it, if he aggravates me, I'll go and break that pecker sword of his!" Li Fengjie turned his head and looked over, though he paid no mind as he thought Ge Shaogang likely a madman. When he finished reading the stela inscription, he walked off and returned the brush and inkstone to the monks' house. He exited the gate and mounted his horse, intending to enter the city and go back to his inn. Before he had rode north two miles, he heard the sound of horses' hooves behind him. Li Fengjie looked back and saw that it was the man and woman he'd encountered at the Dayan Pagoda with a cart hurrying his way. Li Fengjie wasn't willing to engage himself in any unnecessary disputes, so he smiled proudly behind him and continued spurring his horse on, though the horses followed closely behind him.
At this time, Aluan had grabbed hold of a gust of determination. Because she saw this man carrying a weresword, she had concluded that he knew martial arts, and she furthermore concluded that he was a gallant from another province come here especially to pick a fight with her Kunlun School. Hence she had to chase him to see where this man was staying. By now only jealousy was in Ge Shaogang's heart as he felt that Aluan had fallen in love with the pale-faced scholar. Relying on the saber Ge Shaogang had brought with him, he spurred persistently until he caught up with the white horse in front of him. He shouted loudly, "Halt, little one! What are you doing here?" Ahead of him, Li Fengjie quickly reined his horse in and turned it around. This time his face showed annoyance as he said, "Why do you want to know?" Ge Shaogang puffed out his chest and made a fist as he said, scowling, "I, the Great Sir Ge, am asking because you don't look like the good sort, little one!" Li Fengjie restrained his anger and sneered slightly, "You'll get no answer from me!" When he finished, he turned his horse around to leave. Ge Shaogang spurred his horse to fly forward and the two horses rubbed against each other. Ge Shaogang originally intended to knock Li Fengjie off his horse with a push, but he hadn't thought that the other person would lean out from his horse and with a shove of the hand, send Ge Shaogang toppling down with a crash from his saddle. He was immediately furious as he rolled over and stood up. He ran over and grabbed a hold of his horse. He drew his saber, turned around and charged at Li Fengjie.
Li Fengjie had by now revealed his own weresword. The sun reflected off the blade in a bright, glimmering array. Ge Shaogang's Kunlun bladework was closing in when Li Fengjie flicked his sword, knocking away Ge Shaogang's saber, and then with a quiver of his sword, he sent Ge Shaogang's saber into a blur of confusion. Nearby, Bao Aluan shouted, "This is bad!" Cheng Yu'e anxiously blurted out from the cart, "You, stop fighting!" However, before the words had finished being said over here, Ge Shaogang had already suffered injury by sword over there as he laid face down on the ground. Li Fengjie sheathed his sword and climbed onto his horse. He quickly spurred his snowy courser on as it galloped like a white line to the north.
Aluan was so furious she cared little about how serious Ge Shaogang's injury was as she scooped up his saber from the ground, mounted her horse and gave urgent chase. As she pursued, she shouted at the people in front of her, "Stop the one riding a white horse! Stop him! He's hurt someone!" However, the people coming and going in front of her were all carrying baskets and pushing carts, so who among them would dare get in the way of that white horse? Aluan fumed while she watched the one riding a white horse fly into Chang'an city. She pulled up her horse, panting loudly, and then turned it around to see that Cheng Yu'e had already climbed out of the cart and was sitting next to her injured husband crying bitterly. Ge Shaogang's injuries were considerably deep. His arm had been sliced by the sword, leaving only a bit of tendon intact, and his upper body was soaked with fresh blood. He had by now lost consciousness.
Aluan was at once angry and worried as she said to the driver of the cart, "Lift the young captain into the cart!" The driver wrinkled his brow and said, "How could I move him on my own? Plus, with such a serious wound, won't moving him—" Aluan said, "Then take the young mistress back first and tell the people in the security office to hurry here. I'll stay here and look after him!" She carried the sword spiritedly. Cheng Yu'e's face carried a hidden hatred as she shed tears and glared at Aluan a moment. She climbed into the cart with the servant woman and told the driver to hurry into the city.
Just then, two horses appeared from the north running very quickly, and Aluan saw that it was Lu Zhizhong and Liu Zhiyuan. She spurred her horse to meet them and called loudly to them, "Come quickly! Brother Ge's been injured by someone, and the enemy's fled!" The two horses facing her drew near speedily. Lu Zhizhong asked, "What happened? Who did you encounter?" Aluan seethed and said, "We encountered someone atop the tower and then chased him down. A fight erupted between him and Brother Ge and he hurt Brother Ge after two or three exchanges. I regret not bringing my saber with me today!"
Lu Zhizhong and Liu Zhiyuan dismounted. Upon seeing the severity of Ge Shaogang's wounds, they both furrowed their brows together. Lu Zhizhong was first to complain to Liu Zhiyuan, "I'd determined that something would happen today. You and I should have come sooner!" Then he quickly told Liu Zhiyuan to return first and tell the attendants at the security office to come with a wagon, and then he ordered the driver to take Cheng Yu'e back into the city. He was asking Aluan the details of what had just happened when Ge Shaogang came to and cried out in pain. When he saw Lu Zhizhong, he said, "Uncle Lu! You must avenge me. His name is Li Fengjie of Nangong!" Lu Zhizhong frowned and said to the young lady, "I arrived the same day that you did, young miss. I dared not leave for I knew that someone would happen before long. It is not the same as it was ten years ago. Back then we dominated like lords over Guanzhong and Hanzhong. We can't do that anymore as so many of these young heroes have come out of the other provinces!"
Aluan did not wait for Lu Zhizhong to finish speaking. She angrily took up the saber and mounted her horse. She stared at Lu Zhizhong and said, "Uncle Lu, you can't stop me! It was my grandpa that told me to venture out, so no matter who it is, no one can stop me. You watch over him. I'll enter the city. I must find that one named Li who rides a white horse and kill him to avenge my Brother Ge!" When she said this, she set off on her horse, leaving Lu Zhizhong to stamp his foot and sigh in exasperation.
Aluan whipped her horse into the south gate of Chang'an and encountered Liu Zhiyuan with a few attendants and a wagon on their way out of the city to retrieve the injured. Liu Zhiyuan asked, "Miss Luan, how was Shaogang's wound when you left him?" Aluan replied irritably, "How should I know?" When she returned to the Lishun Security Office, Miao Zhiying, Yuan Zhixia, Jin Zhiyong, Zhao Zhilong and others were there, and they all came to her to ask her questions. Aluan went through the whole thing angrily and then sent out the attendants to ask around about where the white horse-riding, sword-using Li Fengjie was in fact staying. She didn't have the saddle and blanket on her horse unstrapped when she tossed down the saber and entered the inner yard. She heard Xu-shi and her daughter-in-law crying despairingly. Cheng Yu'e didn't dare say anything, but Xu-shi wept and said, "I only have the one son. When he went out on those escort jobs before, nothing happened to him. This time, it was because there came a..."
Aluan only listened up to here as no doubt the rest of the words of blame were about her, which couldn't help but make her even angrier! She thought, It was originally your son who picked a fight with another. His skills weren't good so he was wounded. How could you fault me? She wanted to give her a few words of rebuke, but she was her own disciple-aunt after all and Ge Zhiqiang couldn't be compared to any of her other disciple-uncles, so she bore down her ire. She went into her room and picked up her saber, and then led her horse out of the gate and rode it to every corner looking for Li Fengjie. Miao Zhiying were helpless to restrain her, so they had no choice but to sent two attendants to follow after her.
Ge Zhiqiang had gone to Fuping county to handle some business, so when this incident occurred at the security office, it had erupted into disorder. Miao Zhiying urgently rode a quick horse to Fuping county to find Ge Zhiqiang. Lu Zhizhong tried to quell the crowd, urging everyone to settle down, saying, "Right now, Miss Luan is in the streets looking for the one called Li, and none of us can stop her. However, we must all control ourselves for the time being. If you have something to say, wait until Brother Ge comes back to say it!" Thus, he quickly sent for a well-known local doctor specialized in treating traumatic injuries to treat Ge Shaogang's wounds. That day many fighting masters engaged in the same trade and well known in the city came and asked after them, some to right the wrongs committed, some to discuss endlessly, and a few even to offer to run around outside and inquire about Li Fengjie's location and background.
It wasn't until the evening that Ge Zhiqiang was able to race back from Fuping county. He looked at his son's wounds and rapidly stamped his foot. Aluan also returned shortly, saying that she had looked in and out of the city all day without seeing Li Fengjie. Then she said, "That man's sword skill was actually pretty good. I think it must be the Xia of Longmen's grandson, Ji Guangjie. He's come and gotten into trouble so he's run back to Henan. Tomorrow, I might as well chase him east!" Ge Zhiqiang waved his hand and smiled coldly, saying, "If he really is Ji Guangjie, it is very unlikely he would have run away. We'll hold back our tempers for now and search the vicinity of Xi'an a few days for him. If we don't turn him up, he must be one of the younger generation of Jianghu and his martial arts are likely only slightly stronger than my son's. It won't matter who we send; they'll be able to capture and bring him back. If we discover that this man has yet to leave this place, the cost to us may be considerable."
Upon hearing this, no one could help but become angry, asking in shock, "Why do you say that?" Ge Zhiqiang sighed lightly and said, "You may not know, but a very famous young xia has come out of Jiangnan, and some suspect that he is Jiang Xiaohe. However, I myself have heard people from Jiangnan say that this man is surnamed Li and that he's a man of Zhili Province. If Li Fengjie is this xia from Jiangnan, then we may be in deep trouble!" Nearby, Lu Zhizhong said, "No matter what, it would do well for us to show restraint at all times!"
Ge Zhiqiang waved his hand and said, "That's not right either, Brother Lu. No matter who was in the wrong today, my son has been gravely injured and he may die tonight. If we don't settle our grievances, not only could we not keep this security office of mine open, but none of us brothers would be able to feed ourselves by traveling upon Jianghu!" When Ge Zhiqiang said this, it aroused the righteous indignation in Miao Zhiying, Liu Zhiyuan, Yuan Zhixia, Jin Zhiyong, Zhao Zhilong and the attendants and all the others. They all rubbed their fists, impatient to search for Li Fengjie. Aluan then said, "I ask all my uncles to hold back and leave me to fight him one-on-one!"
As she said this, several people came in from outside. They were all locals of the same trade. One was Liang Zhen of the Taifu Security Office, another was Han Bao of the Fengshan Security Office, and with them they brought Eldest Liu, the innkeeper at the Auspicious Inn by the western gate. Cheng Fengshan said, "We've found him. The one named Li is currently staying in Eldest Liu's inn." Hearing this, Aluan took up her saber and grabbed hold of Eldest Liu, saying, "Take me to him!" Ge Zhiqiang held the young lady back and said, "No need to rush. Let's find out where he's come from." [Note: I believe a small portion of the text is missing from the copy I'm translating this from. As we will see later, Han Bao is actually the captain of the Guanzhong Security Office and Cheng Fengshan of the Fengshan Security Office has also come with the other captains. This must be the result of a copying error somewhere in the long publication history of this novel. I've kept the translation faithful to the text I have, but know that this passage is likely not entirely whole.]
Eldest Liu of the Auspicious Inn said, "He's a stranger, so I don't know very much about him. He said he was surnamed Li, and he's stayed at the inn for the past four days. He goes out to enjoy himself every day and when he comes back, he reads in his room. Today, he was the first to leave and didn't come back until noon. He hasn't left again since he's come back." Yuan Zhixia and the others said, "He must know he's gotten himself into trouble, afraid that we're going to go look for him." Eldest Liu said, "But he didn't look like he was scared. When he came back today, he read and wrote in his room. He didn't even bother eating the meal we sent to him. He seems to me like a bookworm. All he's got with him are his travel pack, a bundle of books, a sword, and a white horse. He looks to be very unassuming, not like one who trains in martial arts." Aluan said, "That's him. Innkeeper Liu, take me over there!"
Ge Zhiqiang still hesitated, though Yuan Zhixia and most of the others all went to fetch their weapons. Lu Zhizhong stood in front of the door and waved his hand, anxiously saying, "Everyone, let's not be rash! This grievance will surely be settled, but we must think over how it should be done. The master has told us before that there are two kinds of people who travel upon Jianghu that we can't underestimate. The first are ascetics. The second are refined scholars. Since most of these two kinds of people have traditions separate from our own, the martial arts they've learned are unlike ours. If we act without careful consideration, we will inevitably suffer losses!"
Yuan Zhixia and the others said, "Brother Lu, you think too much. Right now we should take advantage of the fact Li Fengjie hasn't left yet and quickly capture him. Even if you think his martial arts are powerful, he's no match for our numbers. If we don't go get him today and he runs away tomorrow, it will bring great shame upon our Kunlun School! In the future, anyone will think they can come and harass us." Ge Zhiqiang made up his mind then and motioned with his hand, saying, "Let's go! Over to the western gate!" Yuan Zhixia and Zhao Zhilong pulled Lu Zhizhong aside and everyone went to get their weapons. With Ge Zhiqiang and the young lady Aluan taking the lead, the twenty-odd people headed to the western gate together.
At this point the western gate was already half-closed. Ge Zhiqiang personally met with an officer of the city guard and asked him to leave half of city gate open, as they would return in a short while. Ge Zhiqiang was well known in Xi'an, so the officer didn't dare not to comply. Thereafter, the better part of the group made their way to the Auspicious Inn. The innkeeper Eldest Liu first asked of Ge Zhiqiang, "Good sir Ge, please take only the one named Li. Don't take my other guest along with him, or else I won't be able to keep this inn of mine open." Ge Zhiqiang waved his hand and said, "Not to worry." He instructed all his subordinates not to be reckless, though the young lady Aluan had already entered the door of the inn first with her saber raised. Ge Zhiqiang asked, "Which room is he in?" Eldest Liu pointed to the room at the southwest corner and said, "It's that room. Do you, good sir Ge, that the man is currently inside?"
Ge Zhiqiang saw bright lamplight coming out of the room's window and a motionless shadow. Ge Zhiqiang instructed everyone not to move. He walked to the door of the room carrying his saber, and then rushed into it after pulling the door open. In the room, Li Fengjie was reading beside a lamp, but next to his book was resting a weresword already unsheathed. Upon seeing someone coming into his room, he took the sword into his hand and stood up. Though anger had filled his chest now, Ge Zhiqiang waved his hand and said, "Friend! Don't lose your nerve! There are a few things I'd like to discuss with you first." Li Fengjie didn't look the least bit frightened and nodded calmly, saying, "Very well! If you have something to say, then say it! You and I are complete strangers. You've suddenly barged into my room with saber raised. What is your intention?"
At this point, Aluan had come into the room as well. She slapped the desk with her saber with a crack and glared at him, saying, "Are you still playing dumb? Weren't you the one who injured another at the Dayan Pagoda today?" She brandished her saber and made to hurt him. Ge Zhiqiang hurriedly held her back, so Aluan planted one foot on a stool and pointed her saber at Li Fengjie. Li Fengjie made no move evade. He smiled slightly and nodded, saying, "That's right, around noon today I wounded someone outside the south gate. But that man brought his injury upon himself, because he got in my way and insulted me, and it was he that attacked with his saber first." Aluan wanted to charge at him again, saying, "Don't speak that nonsense. You are to pay with your life now!" Her saber slashed with a swoosh, but Li Fengjie halted it with his sword. A deafening clang was all that was heard. The twenty-some men outside all wanted to charge into the room, and they had already cut away the paper on the windows with their sabers. Many had reached in with their sabers, and many had squeezed in with their heads.
Li Fengjie moved back one step and slanted his sword to protect his body. He laughed saying, "Oh my! There are a good many of you who've come. There are men and women, and all of you know how to fight!" He swung his sword with a whoosh and pressed forward two steps in return. Aluan met him with her saber, and they could hear only the clattering of saber against sword, chopping at each other several times. Ge Zhiqiang extended his saber and stopped the two, saying, "Don't start fighting! Let us get some clear answers before we make another move. He can't run anyway!" Li Fengjie laughed, "What else do you have to ask? You shameless group of men and women, relying on numbers for a victory. You're a complete disgrace to all those in the world who train in the martial arts!"
Ge Zhiqiang felt hatred and shame by turns. He turned around and stamped his foot, shouting, "All of you, get out! Let me reason with him alone! We'll not let him ridicule our Kunlun School!" Yuan Zhixia, who had just poked his head in, and the others moved back. Aluan and Ge Zhiquan were the only ones who remained in the room. The manner of their opponent Li Fengjie remained calm as he asked, "What is your honorable name?" Ge Zhiqiang clasped his fist and said, "I am Ge Zhiqiang of the Lishun Security Office, a disciple of the Kunlun School." Li Fengjie showed no deference to Ge Zhiqiang's reputation, saying, "The Kunlun School? I've traveled upon Jianghu a few years now, but I've never heard mention of such a school."
Hearing this, Aluan could stand it no longer. She sent a chop at Li Fengjie with her saber, saying, "How dare you look down at our Kunlun School!" Li Fengjie quickly met her with his sword. Ge Zhiqiang advanced as well with his saber out. Li Fengjie jumped up onto the desk, kicking over the oil lamp with one foot and blocking the two sabers below with his sword. The room filled with the noise of metal striking metal, and the outside erupted in chaos and a cacophony of human voices. It wasn't known who had cut away the wooden window frame as swords and spears came in one after another.
Li Fengjie's sword slashed sideways and cut forward, flipping over and over again as if flying. The sound of blades rang out in confusion, peppered with the sound of raw screams. After cutting down two men, he leapt out the window. Once he did so, Aluan and Ge Zhiqiang raced out of the room after him, hearing someone shout, "I see him!" Because it was now dark out, everyone stood in a circle and attacked at random. It was hard to tell which one was Li Fengjie. They fought for a dozen more exchanges before they saw the glimmer of the sword turn a whole circle and someone leap from amidst the crowd on the roof. Ge Zhiqiang bellowed, "He's run away! He's run away!" Thus, a few of them hopped onto the roof as well and gave chase, while the rest came out of the inn's gate. By now there were very many people in the streets, including all of the guests staying at the inn. Someone said, "He's long gone, run to the west." Thus with Aluan as the lead, a dozen people flew west in pursuit.
Ge Zhiqiang entered the inn where it was suddenly quiet. He told the innkeeper to light four lamps to illuminate every space. He saw that any trace of Li Fengjie was long gone and six wounded lying on the ground. One among them was Miao Zhiying, who had a stab wound in his chest and had already breathed his last. Upon seeing him, Ge Zhiqiang immediately cried in anguish. Liu Zhiyuan too wiped tears away and commiserated with him. He looked around at the several wounded men strewn about and saw that they were all attendants at the security office, though none of their injuries were fatal.
Ge Zhiqiang shed tears and stamped his foot, saying, "Who could have thought? Brother Miao came to Fuping county today to bring me back, and now he's died in such a way. We must take vengeance for this!" Thereafter, he told some attendants to find a cart on the street and take the injured and dead back into the city. After a short while, Aluan, Yuan Zhixia, Jin Zhiyong, Zhao Zhilong and the others returned and reported that they chased him for ten-odd miles, but weren't able to catch up to him. Li Fengjie had likely hidden himself away somewhere.
When they heard that Miao Zhiying had died in the conflict, they yelled and cried. Some chopped at the ground with their sabers and swore vengeance. Aluan was especially angry and groused, "It's all your fault. What a mess you all made with your help! A lot of people could be advantageous in daylight, but in the evening it's a hindrance! If in the beginning it had been just me, fighting against him by myself, I would never have let him escape with his life!" Liu Zhiyuan sighed, "What use are these words now? Let's go inside and see what the one named Li has thrown away."
Liu Zhiyuan and Zhao Zhilong went inside with a lamp and rummaged through the things Li Fengjie had left behind. They found quite a bit of silver in his belongings; the banknotes and cash together totaled over a hundred taels. Outside of that, there were a few changes of clothes, a brush and inkstone, an iron sword case, several books and a scroll of verse. Zhao Zhilong knew how to read and write, so he skimmed the scroll and said, "I know where this man has come from. His name is Li Fengjie and he's a man of Nangong county in Zhili Province. He has just passed twenty years this year, and he is an unsuccessful civil service candidate. The master who taught him martial arts is surnamed Tong... Oh no! It's the Dragon of Shu! Look, he's written one called, Bidding My Master Farewell at the Gates of the Capital: 'In Western Shu this year hides a crouching dragon...'"
Ge Zhiqiang couldn't help but be stunned, nodding, "The Dragon of Shu is named Tong Qingyan, but I'd heard he was long dead, so how could he have gone to the capital? And how could he then have passed everything on to just this one disciple? Aluan asked who the Dragon of Shu was, and Ge Zhiqiang replied apprehensively, "Tong Qingyan the Dragon of Shu is a xia from thirty years ago. Together with Ji Junyi the Xia of Longmen, they were called the Two Dragons of North and South, as well as the Two Pinnacles of North and South!" Aluan scoffed, "Who cares whose disciple he is? I'll wait for him at this inn tonight. If he dares return, I will certainly kill him. If he doesn't, tomorrow we'll send people all over and capture him. If she can't capture him within three days, I'll go to Nangong in Zhili and look for his home." Thereafter, Ge Zhiqiang ordered all of Li Fengjie's belongings be brought into the city. Aluan, Yuan Zhixia, Jin Zhiyong and ten men remained here. Ge Zhiqiang and the others entered the city. At night, nothing much happened in the city or without.
The following day, all of Xi'an was in an uproar, saying that the Dragon of Shu's disciple Li Fengjie had come and the Kunlun School had suffered losses. Neither Ge Zhiqiang nor the old master Bao's granddaughter were any good, as the one named Li faced twenty-odd people on his own. He ended up wounding several and stepped casually over them. Word spread farther and farther, and in the space of a day, there was no one within a hundred miles of Chang'an who didn't know about it. This was especially the case with those in the security business, as one could see that they sent men to the Lishun Security Office to ask after them, to pay their respects to Miao Zhiying and to offer promises of assistance. They were all actually on the alert themselves, for none wanted to provoke Li Fengjie. Miao Zhiying's coffin sat at the Dabei Temple in the city, while Bao Aluan remained at the Auspicious Inn by the western gate, waiting for Li Fengjie. Ge Zhiqiang was aggravated the entire day and sent people all over to chase out Li Fengjie's whereabouts. He also sent people to Hanzhong, Zhenba, Ziyang and other places with letters.
On the third day, they began the funereal rites for Miao Zhiying at Dabei Temple, and many famous escorts and fighting masters came to Guanzhong. Ge Zhiqiang spoke to everyone, saying, "People of the Kunlun School have traveled upon Jianghu for thirty, forty years, and we've never been demeaned before. Now this has happened, we have nothing else to say but that no matter what, we must capture Li Fengjie and take revenge for our dead and wounded. I do not care what school this Li Fengjie belongs to, or whose disciple he is. All those gathered here are my good friends of many years, and those of the same trade follow the same principles. I hope that everyone will help our Kunlun School in this matter, and right this wrong against those of us who have learned the martial arts in Guanzhong!" Those escorts and masters that came naturally shook their arms and beat their chests as one, each and every one of them said, "We swear to avenge Miao Zhiying and do justice to the Guanzhong security trade." When the service was over and the monks finished chanting scripture, those who came gradually dispersed.
Ge Zhiqiang drowned his sorrows in several cups of wine. His body felt flushed and it was like an inferno blazed in his heart. He left the temple and got into a cart, thinking to himself, Where have I, the 'Iron Hegemon of the Golden Saber and Silver Whip,' in all my life ever suffered such a loss? We trained in the martial arts for ten years to deal with Jiang Xiaohe, and now Jiang Xiaohe has not come, nor has Ji Guangjie, but this Li Fengjie! If these young ones are called heroes on Jianghu, then those of our Kunlun School are as good as useless! Thus, Ge Zhiqiang vowed that he would put all at risk to strive for justice. Under the darkness of night, the mule cart wove its way through small alleys for a while before he reached his own security office. Once he entered, he saw Lu Zhizhong greeting him, saying, "Sixth Brother, come inside!" Ge Zhiqiang went to the front hall and Lu Zhizhong said, "Qin Deyu from the Huazhou Security Office has just arrived. He's staying at the Zhang Inn right now. According to him, Ji Guangjie has already reached Lingbao county. He truly is young and talented with powerful martial arts. Why haven't we sent someone to ask him to help us?" Ge Zhiqiang said, "Brother, among our Kunlun School, only you and I and the Long brothers are the old master's exceptional disciples. How is it you've now become so craven!?"
Lu Zhizhong said, "It's not that I'm craven. I'm thinking that our Kunlun School is no match for the successors to the Dragon of Shu and the Xia of Longmen." Ge Zhiqiang said crossly, "Even if we aren't a match for them, we must still put it all out there. Otherwise, we disciples of Bao Kunlun can forget about traveling upon Jianghu ever again!" He continued seething and left the room to go into the inner yard to sleep for the night. The inner yard was made up of three houses. His son and daughter-in-law were living in the western house, and because his son was recovering, his room was still lit by lamp. The eastern house was his and for twenty years now, he and his wife had slept in different rooms. When he wasn't inside, no one dared go inside the eastern house.
At this moment, Ge Zhiqiang made his way angrily to his room. As he was reaching out to pull open the door, he heard movement inside the room. He was taken aback and stepped back three or four paces. He directed a question inside the room, "Who's there?" The person inside laughed a little and then said, "It's Li Fengjie." Ge Zhiqiang was so startled the little bit of drunkenness left in him fled! He ran to the northern house, took a saber down from the wall and went back outside, where he saw that Li Fengjie had already come out and was standing on the roof, peering down and laughing. Ge Zhiqiang pointed his saber up at the roof and said, "Friend! Don't leave yet!" From the roof, Li Fengjie said, "All right, I won't leave. What business do you have?" Ge Zhiqiang said, "Friend, do you dare come down?"
Li Fengjie said, "I'll come down!" When he said this, he leapt down from the roof with a whoosh. A cold glimmer shielded his front; it was the sword he held in his hand. Ge Zhiqiang retreated another few steps and then said, "No wrongs in the past, no feuds in the present. Why must you mistreat us to such an extent?" Li Fengjie said, "I haven't mistreated you. It was you who attacked me for no reason. At the Dayan Pagoda, it was your son who picked a fight with me, so I wounded him." Ge Zhiqiang said, "What is your background?" Li Fengjie said, "That you needn't inquire into. You and I are no friends. There's no use in telling you my background."
Ge Zhiqiang said, "However..." When he said this, he took a step forward, and then said proudly, "You'd best ask around about my reputation and the stature of our Kunlun School. My master Bao Zhenfei is still alive, and he remains healthy. Some years ago the strongest man in Northern Sichuan, Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong suffered a great loss at the hands of my master. Your martial art and swordwork are pretty good, but do you surpass the Xia of Langzhong? Right now word of what's happened here is swiftly making its way to the ears of the old man. When he finds out, he'll be livid! You should be careful. I have a business to run right now, so I don't want to incite anger or start any feuds with those of Jianghu. You've wounded my son and killed my brother, but I still don't want to hurt you. I encourage you to leave here quickly and never come back to Guanzhong!"
Li Fengjie laughed coldly, saying, "Shut up! Stop trying to use your big talk to scare me. Bao Zhenfei isn't even in my field of vision, and neither is your Kunlun School! If you want to fight, then fight. I, Li Fengjie, never involve myself with modest courtesy. I came here to visit and look around, and I don't want to leave. No matter who it is, no one can drive me out!" Ge Zhiqiang said in fury, "Ha! I left you a road out of this alive, but you don't take it! And you dare to insult my master!" He brandished his saber and Li Fengjie quickly met it with his sword.
Clang, clang, clang, the saber and sword went back and forth three or five times, before someone rushed in from the front courtyard and caught Li Fengjie's sword with a saber, urgently saying, "You must not fight!" Li Fengjie held out his sword and asked, "Who are you?" The man said, "I am Lu Zhizhong. I have come here from elsewhere as well. The two of you mustn't fight right now. If you have things to say, say them calmly! Ge Zhiqiang impatiently said, "Brother, what else could I have to say to him? I gave him a way out alive, telling him to leave Guanzhong. He refused to leave. He has deliberately set himself against our Kunlun School!" Li Fengjie scoffed, "You want me to leave so you can tell others that I, Li Fengjie, am afraid of your power and preserve your dignity. Although that is easy enough provided there is someone among you who can defeat this sword in my hand!"
Ge Zhiqiang stamped his foot and said, "Very well! I will fight you here and now!" The weapons on either side rang out as they touched. Lu Zhizhong stood between them to stop them and said, "Even if you wanted a contest, the middle of the night is not the time to put your life on the line. There's no harm in setting a day where both sides can invite their friends to watch the contest with their eyes." Li Fengjie said, "I have no friends here, so you may decide the day!" Lu Zhizhong said, "What about tomorrow?" Li Fengjie said, "Great! Bring as many people as you like, whether to watch or to help. All I need is this one sword!" Having said this, he turned around and marched fearlessly toward the outer yard.
Ge Zhiqiang was about to go after him with his saber, but Lu Zhizhong struck him and admonished him, "Brother, don't be impatient!" Whereupon he tossed down his saber and walked Li Fengjie outside. When they reached the gate, he said, "Brother Li, please stop. I have more to say to you!" Li Fengjie turned around and saw that Lu Zhizhong's hands lacked a weapon, so he slid his sword back into its scabbard. He then listened as Lu Zhizhong said, "You've hurt my brothers, but my two families must not breed a deep enmity over this. We shall have a contest at the Ba Bridge tomorrow, but I ask that you be sensible!" Li Fengjie smirked and said, "Well that depends on all of you. I, Li Fengjie, am certainly not so self-centered as that!" After he said this, he swung his just-retrieved bundle of books and silvers over his shoulder and strutted off to the north.
When Lu Zhizhong returned to the inner yard, a lamp had already been lit in the eastern house. Ge Zhiqiang sat in a chair angrily, and when he saw Lu Zhizhong, he said, "Why did you let Li Fengjie go? Don't tell me that our two sabers couldn't have defeated his one sword." Lu Zhizhong said, "At the Auspicious Inn by the western gate, a dozen were not a match for him, so how could the two of us have beaten him now? Not to mention we're in our own courtyard, and it wouldn't do at all to alarm the womenfolk. If we're hurt, then we've lost for nothing, and if we hurt him, the authorities will become involved."
Ge Zhiqiang said, "I'm not afraid of involving the authorities!" Lu Zhizhong said, "But we don't need to have the authorities pushing us around over an outsider. Don't worry about tomorrow, brother, and moreover don't tell Miss Luan. I'll go to the Ba Bridge and settle this grievance for our Kunlun School!" Ge Zhiqiang said, "We'll invite over a few more friends tomorrow. At the Ba Bridge, I'll face him first, and when things aren't going well for me, all of you will attack him!" When he finished speaking, he let out a long growl of anger! After Lu Zhizhong departed, he closed his door and went to sleep.
Ge Zhiqiang woke up early when the next day arrived. He sent people to invite over the renowned escorts and masters in the city and prepared wine at the security office. In a short while came Liang Zhen of the Taifu Security Office, Cheng Fengshan of the Fengshan Security Office, Han Bao of the Guanzhong Security Office, Qin Deyu of the Huazhou Security Office, in addition to the fighting masters Eighth Zhang the Blind Tiger and Pang Yin the Divinatory Fist, and also Lu Zhizhong, Jin Zhiyong and the others. They filled the seats of two tables. Ge Zhiqiang related to them the previous day's events where they had agreed to meet Li Fengjie at the Ba Bridge this day for a contest.
Cheng Fengshan of the Fengshan Security Office immediately slapped the table angrily and hollered, "We'll all go later! We'll see what kind of person the one named Li is. Since he wants a fight, we must kill him and not let him get off with minor wounds. And then I answer the murder charge!" Eighth Zhang the Blind Tiger jumped up as well and said, "When the time comes, none of you should raise a hand. Allow me face him alone. I hurried back from Wugong county last night just so I could fight that little one and get justice for our friends of Guanzhong!" Lu Zhizhong waved his hand continuously, saying, "It cannot be as such. The arrangement made yesterday was with me, and when we see him later, we need only defeat him. We needn't hurt him and sow enmity. This is because it's said he is the Dragon of Shu's disciple!"
Qin Deyu of the Huazhou Security Office subdued some of the aggravated men and said, "Brother Lu is right. We of the security trade in Guanzhong can't afford to start any more feuds with those from other provinces. Ji Guangjie has already reached Lingbao county and may arrive in Guanzhong in two or three days. He's told others that he's dissatisfied with our security trade in Guanzhong, saying that we're dominating Jianghu and harassing those from other provinces. If we kill Li Fengjie today at the Ba Bridge, Ji Guangjie may hurry here and settle this wrong. One is a disciple of the Dragon of Shu, and one is the grandson of the Xia of Longmen. The two must know each other!"
After Qin Deyu said this, Ge Zhiqiang sat in deep thought while many of the others lost their drive. Only Eighth Zhang the Blind Tiger remained scowling as he said, "What 'jie'? I don't care who it is, I'll chop him in two all the same!" The gathered men drank their wine quickly and poured out of the office gate. Some of the escorts were riding wagons while others were riding horses as they filled up one of the streets. Ge Zhiqiang was riding a black horse and Lu Zhizhong rode a white horse up ahead. Jin Zhiyong came out of the gate and then went back again. He found an attendant and secretly gave him some instruction. Thereupon the mass of wagons and horses made their way to the east gate in disarray. The people on the road all stopped to gawk, knowing that Sixth Sir Ge had invited all the famed escorts in the city to have a martial contest with someone at the Ba Bridge. [Note: Eighth Zhang makes a pun here on the fact that both Li Fengjie and Ji Guangjie both have "jie" in their names and that a homonym for "jie" can also mean "section" or "part," so keeping "jie" untranslated, it might read: "What 'jie'? I don't care who it is, I'll chop him into two jie all the same!"]
The great group of wagons exited the east gate of Chang'an and passed ten miles of shops. Another ten miles, and they were at the Ba Bridge. This was one of Guanzhong's famous scenic locales. The Ba River sprawled across the great plain like a wide ribbon. The waters weren't deep, but they were clear with a lovely shade of jade, and a scattering of green willows cushioned either bank. The landscape was beautiful and serene. The bridge was several hundred feet long and level, and large, tall tablets had been erected on both sides of the bridge, east and west, with imperial edicts on them. Cottages spread out on both banks among numerous rice paddies, and a flourishing town sat on the eastern bank called Ba Bridge town.
His horse at a gallop, Lu Zhizhong was the first to arrive, with the horses and wagons still half a mile behind him. He spotted Li Fengjie standing at the foot of the bridge holding his sword. Lu Zhizhong dismounted and hitched his horse to a willow tree before he approached unarmed. He clasped his fist and said, "Brother Li, you're early!" Li Fengjie cupped his fist, looked over at the mass of horses and wagons and laughed, saying, "So many of your people have come!" Lu Zhizhong said, "Many have come, but I'll be the only one to fight with you. Those friends are here but to bear witness. Today, we will talk of real martial skill, real martial arts. You may not use tricks or hidden weapons to harm people." Li Fengjie said, "I've never employed hidden weapons, only this sword of mine."
While the two spoke, the horses and wagons drew near. Qin Deyu spurred his horse ahead and climbed off of it. He cupped his fist at Li Fengjie and said, "Is this Brother Li Fengjie?" Li Fengjie cupped his fist as well and asked, "What is your honorable name, brother?" Qin Deyu said, "My name is Qin Deyu. Li Zhenxia of Huazhou is my father-in-law. I've come today to help your two houses with these matters. We and you are all friends of Jianghu. If any problems arise, we should be able to resolve them in a few words and phrases. We needn't insist on going so far as I-live-and-you-die to settle the greatest of feuds."
When he finished, he saw that Ge Zhiqiang's horse and wagon had arrived. He raised his hand and called out, "I ask that friends on both sides humor me by not touching your weapons, as real martial skill lies in the hands and feet. This place is very spacious, and you'll soon test your fists against each other here. As I see it, whoever does not act fairly is not considered a friend, nor will they be considered a real man!" Han Bao, Liang Zhen and the others all gave their approval. Having already drawn their sabers, only Cheng Fengshan and Eighth Zhang the Blind Tiger inevitably did not accept this fully after hearing these words. Lu Zhizhong said, "All right, all right. It was I who arranged yesterday to meet Sir Li here, so I invite Sir Li today to show me a thing or two!" By this point, a great many travelers from east of the bridge and local farmers had gathered to watch the crowd of men fight.
Li Fengjie flung his sword to the ground and rolled up his sleeves. Lu Zhizhong threw down his saber as well and the two of them walked a half-circle around each other holding fists, whereupon Li Fengjie sprung at Lu Zhizhong with a swinging fist to attack. Lu Zhizhong leaned to evade and started by masking the advance of his right foot. He sent a fist at Li Fengjie, but, slap, Li Fengjie pushed it aside with his left hand and leapt up with a fwoosh, and then tilted his body and swung at Lu Zhizhong's back. Lu Zhizhong quickly reached out his left arm to grab hold of Li Fengjie's right wrist and took the opportunity to strike his midsection, but Li Fengjie planted his feet and freed his right hand without moving an inch. He changed his fist form and counter-charged Lu Zhizhong. They went back and forth with another cycle and Lu Zhizhong recognized that the fistwork Li Fengjie used was all internal technique. It could not be underestimated, so he kept dodging, all the while figuring out how to defeat it with the moves of his own Kunlun School.
Lu Zhizhong kept retreating and noticed that he was about to back himself to the edge of the river under the willow trees as Li Fengjie closed in on him step by step. Cheng Fengshan said, "Lu Zhizhong is such a disappointment to the Kunlun School!" He threw down his saber and sprinted over. By now, Li Fengjie had reached Lu Zhizhong and was sending heavy slugs at him. However, Lu Zhizhong ducked and dodged and knocked away Li Fengjie's left hand. He leapt to the right and came down abruptly, swish, with the sweep of a leg. Li Fengjie sprung up with both feet and brought two fists down from above for an attack. Lu Zhizhong opened his arms and reached up, grasping both of Li Fengjie's wrists. At that, Qin Deyu cheered, "Good martial skill!" Cheng Fengshan thought this an opportunity to take advantage of and unexpectedly came behind Li Fengjie with a kick.
Li Fengjie snatched back his right wrist and trapped Lu Zhizhong's right arm, making to strike his midsection while at the same time ducking out of the way, causing Cheng Fengshan to kick the air. Lu Zhizhong addressed Cheng Fengshan angrily, "Stay out of this!" Li Fengjie used this opportunity to free his left hand and flung Lu Zhizhong a couple paces using the Split-body Cross form. He then advanced with an alternating fist and step cycle three times. Lu Zhizhong only blocked two of them, and the final one struck his right arm. Lu Zhizhong was sent back a few steps, but he didn't fall.
At this time, Cheng Fengshan came charging from behind. Li Fengjie turned around to meet Cheng Fengshan and struck him in the chest with a fist knocking the aged Cheng Fengshan to the ground. Ge Zhiqiang rushed over and tangled himself with Li Fengjie. The two fought and twisted, practically losing the shapes of their hands and feet. They were winding toward the riverbank when Li Fengjie suddenly pushed Ge Zhiqiang away and with a flying kick, sent him tumbling into the river. Pang Yin and Jin Zhiyong approached with sabers drawn. Li Fengjie remained unflustered, his body turning, leaping and shifting to evade the two men's weapons while at the same time sending punches through openings. The two surrounded Li Fengjie, one in front and one in back.
Dripping with water, Ge Zhiqiang had now climbed out of the river. He snatched up his saber and approached Li Fengjie to kill him. Eighth Zhang the Blind Tiger had picked up Li Fengjie's sword earlier, but he didn't go over there, instead hopping up and down, saying, "Kill! Kill! Kill him!" Li Fengjie had by now struck Pang Yin down with his bare hands and picked his saber up. He then repelled Ge Zhiqiang and Jin Zhiyong with a single saber. The three sabers flipped up and flew down for ten-some exchanges. Ge Zhiqiang had run through all the bladework of the Kunlun School but had yet to prevail, and Jin Zhiyong could withstand the attacks no longer. Suddenly, a voice called from the crowd, "I'm coming!" As Li Fengjie was locked in battle with both Ge and Jin, he glanced over and saw a red horse fly on the main road from the west. A woman sat on the horse, wearing a silver-red shirt and white pants. It was the woman whose bladework was very familiar to Li Fengjie. Jin Zhiyong ran to one side and waved her over, saying, "Hurry, come quickly!"
By the time Aluan neared, she had already drawn her saber. She leapt off her horse and sprinted over, saying, "Out of the way, Uncle Ge!" Ge Zhiqiang's bladework was a mess at this point, so he hurriedly turned around and cleared out. Li Fengjie didn't give chase. He simply smiled and waited for Aluan's saber to come at him with a whoosh, whereupon he met it with his saber. Above the riverbank and outside of the willow trees, the two sabers of this one man and one woman flew in a flurry with neither yielding a step. All one could see was the dazzling glimmer of the sunlight reflecting off the blade. Clang, clang, the sound of metal on metal rang out as they fought fiercely for over twenty exchanges.
Lu Zhizhong and Ge Zhiqiang were afraid the young lady would suffer a mishap, so they both advanced with sabers swinging. Li Fengjie resisted the two of them, but after fighting for five or six exchanges, he was gradually being driven back. Han Bao dashed over holding up a spear and lunged viciously at Li Fengjie. As Li Fengjie backed up, he laughed and said, "You surely are worthy to be called heroes of Guanzhong with your many sabers and multitude of hands!" He stepped back and then abruptly turned and ran. Jin Zhiyong, Cheng Fengshan blocked the foot of the bridge. Pang Yin, Eighth Zhang, Qin Deyu and others obstructed the western side, all of them saying, "Don't let him get away!" Li Fengjie charged straight at Eighth Zhang the Blind Tiger and cut him down with one slash. He hurriedly seized his own sword on the way and threw down the saber. Now that he had his sword in hand, he was like a tiger that sprouted wings or a dragon that reached water. He revealed the sword's glimmer and turned back to charge at the crowd. All that was heard was clang, clang, clang, as Li Fengjie's sword knocked back the mass of sabers one-by-one. His body was like that of a flying swallow, bounding and darting about in the cluster of sabers. He parried right and blocked left, resisted in the front and restrained in the back, ending the notion that anyone else's blade would near his body.
Currently, Lu Zhizhong and Bao Aluan were the only ones who could still withstand him; none of the rest could keep up. In an instant, they heard a few screams. The sword had stabbed both Cheng Fengshan and Jin Zhiyong, as Li Fengjie swung his sword and turned towards Han Bao. Han Bao met him with his spear, but with a thock, the sword severed the shaft of the spear, and Han Bao turned tail and fled. Li Fengjie dashed after him, his sword striking like an eagle's wing. Another wretched cry rang out as blood splattered and Han Bao fell to the ground. The people on the bridge all cried out in shock, "Someone's lost a life...!" Aluan yelled loudly as well, "You can forget about leaving!" She flew at him and chopped viciously at Li Fengjie's back with her saber. Li Fengjie hastily turned around and met her with his sword.
Clang clang, the sounds rang out in succession. Aluan felt her hand aching but she didn't flinch. One hand tried to grab hold of Li Fengjie as the other swung her saber in a chopping motion at Li Fengjie. Li Fengjie flicked his sword, knocking aside Aluan's saber, and then tilted his body and pulled back with the sword. This positioning was most malicious, as soon the point of the sword would make contact with Aluan's chest. However, just then someone shouted from atop the bridge! Li Fengjie hurriedly withdrew his sword and jumped to one side. There was a youth riding a white horse on the bridge, bolting over with sword already raised.
Li Fengjie threw off Aluan and readied his sword for this person. The youth brandished his sword and told the three of Aluan, Lu Zhizhong and Ge Zhiqiang to all step aside, and then he faced Li Fengjie in single combat. All they could see were two hectic flashes of cold light and two agile bodies jumping and leaping back and forth. They moved as they fought and were still locked in stalemate after more than a hundred steps. Aluan wanted to sprint after them, but Lu Zhizhong pulled her back. She held her saber and panted, as she watched the two trade attacks for over thirty exchanges. Li Fengjie was gradually driven south. The youth persisted without quarter, advancing closely upon him with his sword extended, and after another dozen or so exchanges, they saw Li Fengjie sitting on the ground with his sword held crosswise to block his opponent's sword.
The youth suddenly thrust his sword at Li Fengjie's chest for a stab, and in a jumble of cold light, Li Fengjie had rolled over and again protected against his opponent's sword with his own. The youth pulled his sword back and tapped Li Fengjie on the waist, whereupon Li Fengjie stood up. Aluan, Lu Zhizhong and others all rushed over, but all they saw was Li Fengjie walking into the river with his entire face flushed red, and treading through the knee-deep water toward the other side.